Building on the recent experience of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) in conducting hearings virtually using Microsoft Teams, the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) is now scheduling virtual hearings for all refugee protection claims. The RPD also continues to provide the option to proceed at an IRB office for any claimants who prefer to do so.
The RPD has a long history of using videoconferencing when conducting refugee protection hearings and has been guided by its 2004 Policy on the Transfer of Files for Hearings by Videoconference. More recently, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the RPD issued a Practice notice on the resumption of in-person hearings. Section 4.4 of that practice notice provides that “To promote the use of social distancing and to protect the health and safety of all hearing participants, the RPD will be using videoconferencing, where possible, to conduct its hearings.” To this end, the RPD launched a pilot project in June 2020 to conduct refugee protection hearings virtually. These virtual hearings involve participants connecting to the hearing from outside of the IRB's premises using the Microsoft Teams application and their own personal devices. This pilot project was deemed successful by the IRB and stakeholders and the RPD is now expanding the use of virtual hearings across the country in order to provide greater access to justice for refugee claimants while continuing to protect the health and safety of all hearing participants.
The RPD is scheduling virtual hearings, while providing the option to proceed at an IRB office
The RPD is now scheduling virtual hearings for all refugee protection claims. That said, any claimants who prefer to have their hearing from an IRB office can advise the RPD of this when their claim is scheduled and the RPD will book an on-site hearing for them. The Member presiding over the hearing ultimately retains the discretion to determine the location of the hearing if there are reasons why it may be inappropriate for a given claim to proceed virtually.
Changing the location of an already scheduled hearing
If a party wishes to convert an already scheduled hearing from in-person to virtual, or vice versa, they should write to the RPD as soon as possible before the hearing date. The RPD will consider the circumstances of each request on a case-by-case basis. To make a request, please write to your regional registry office. If the hearing type changes, the hearing date or time may also need to change.
Parties should review the privacy and technical requirements for having a virtual hearing
All parties who have a virtual hearing scheduled are sent a Notice to Appear which contains the date and time of the hearing, along with information on how to connect and the privacy and technical requirements to participate. Parties should review this information prior to their hearing.
Computers at IRB offices are available for claimants to connect to a virtual hearing
The RPD recognizes that not all claimants who want a virtual hearing have access to the necessary technology and/or private space. As such, upon request, the RPD will make a room available at an IRB office for claimants to use which contains the equipment necessary to connect to a virtual hearing. Claimants should make this request at the time that their hearing is scheduled. If this request is made later, while the RPD will seek to accommodate the request, the hearing may have to be rescheduled to a time when a room is available.
Section 164 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides that "where a hearing is held by a Division, it may, in the Division's discretion, be conducted in the presence of, or by means of live telecommunication with, the person who is the subject of the proceedings." In addition, RPD Rule 69 provides that “in the absence of a provision in these Rules dealing with a matter raised during the proceedings, the Division may do whatever is necessary to deal with the matter.”
Signed on December 7, 2020.
Deputy Chairperson, RPD